There is nothing more fun in the world than presenting Eggheads, which has very quietly become one of the longest-running quiz shows in TV history.
I mean, what could be better than getting to know the great CJ de Mooi, whose response when members of the public mess up a question he thinks he could have answered is usually a totally unreadable facial expression, something like this:
You’re right. It’s not that unreadable.
CJ de Mooi chose his own name, which is Dutch for “CJ The Beautiful One.” Our joke is that his real name is something like Denis Pratt, but none of us is sure. In case you meet him, you need to know that the ‘Mooi’ part is pronounced ‘Moo-ey’, the sound a cow makes if you push it down a helter skelter. I keep mispronouncing it ‘Moy’, which he struggles to forgive me for.
Working with the Beautiful One as much as I did in the days before he left the show, I confess I often wonder: what exactly is CJ de Mooi made of?
It was a single conversation with him that made me realise quizzers are, quite simply, built from different material.
He had just raised himself from one of the rickety plastic chairs we keep firmly hidden from view while filming Eggheads. The contest was over, the contestants were filing out of the studio, the filaments were fading in the lighting rig above us and I was making small talk.
“You’re very good on your movies, CJ,” I said. He had just won a Film & TV round.
“Thanks,” he replied. He is nothing if not succinct. He put on his superior face.
“I mean, if I just threw a movie title at you,” I went on, “I bet you’d know all about it.”
“Okay,” I said, not thinking that I was initiating the kind of conversation the Eggheads face every time they are recognised in the street, “What about — Tootsie?”
“What about it?”
“Only Jessica Lange,” he told me, “for best actress in a supporting role.”
“What about Oscar nominations?”
“Nine. Who wrote it?”
By this stage I was overwhelmed by facts, so I asked CJ: “And what did you think of Tootsie?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I’ve never seen it.”
In that one sentence CJ showed why he, and the others who like to know stuff for the sake of knowing stuff, are built differently. CJ has his passions, sure — tennis and chess come to mind, as well as asking to be on Strictly Come Dancing and walking around BBC Glasgow with no shirt on. But where he has gaps, those gaps will be filled in by sheer hard work. The Eggheads do not know about Tootsie because the knowledge happened to come to them, as it does for most of us; they know about Tootsie because they hunted those facts down like trained assassins. I was very sad when CJ left Eggheads in bizarre circumstances a couple of years back.
The fact-hunting is why the Eggheads are wonderful. And adorable. And very slightly bonkers.
It’s why every visiting quizzer in every team that passes through our studio longs to beat them.
And why I, very secretly, desperately want them to.
Oh, you might like this clip too. I honestly believe the question-setters were setting ME up here . . .